Creating an Erasmus-style mobility scheme for ASEAN?

The First ASEAN Student Mobility Forum was held in Manila, Philippines, in June. The event, organised by EU SHARE, focused on intra-regional student mobility in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN and provided an opportunity for students, policy-makers and university representatives from the 10 ASEAN countries to share their experiences and insights.

Celebrating its 30th year in operation, the European Erasmus programme served as a particularly relevant case study for participants, discussing the lessons learned and impact of the scheme.

For example, recent research from the Erasmus impact study demonstrated that students who take part in the programme and study for part of their course in another European country have higher employment rates after five years, faster career progression, greater professional responsibility, earn more than their non-mobile peers and demonstrate a higher rate of entrepreneurialism.

At the beginning of the forum, participants were asked to share their experiences – focusing on the benefits and barriers to student mobility.

One student discussed her personal experience of studying abroad, the learning and self-growth involved in setting up in a new country and a new city. She spoke of the way it challenged her established perceptions and stereotypes and both the joy and anxiety in developing the basics of a new language and complete immersion in a new culture.

Forum attendees were then surveyed on the main benefits and barriers to student mobility. Seventy-two per cent of participants said that the main advantage was in ‘building cultural understanding and connections outside the home country’.

The major obstacle to student mobility, cited by over a third of participants was the ‘additional financial burden’, with ‘insufficient language skills’ and ‘lack of information from home or host institution’ coming joint second.

Quality challenges

Discussions of the benefits and challenges continued over the two-day event. Students highlighted that it can be difficult to transfer the credit gained outside their home country to their current study programme; that higher education institutions are not comparable in quality or reputation and that it was more difficult to encourage students to study in those of perceived lower quality.

There was also an issue of scale with limited places available on intra-regional mobility programmes at present.

The biggest difference between ASEAN and European perspectives was in the benefit of student mobility to employers.

Although an employer, CIMB bank, spoke of the importance of globally competitive graduates and the need to be ‘future ready’ for the technological and social changes ahead, there was a general feeling from ASEAN student representatives that employers did not yet recognise the benefit of intra-regional student mobility to their businesses and companies.

A consistent message from ASEAN students and alumni participants, strongly supported by policy-makers, was the need for their involvement in the co-design of any future ASEAN-wide programme.

Students represented all the countries of ASEAN and were each an alumnus of one of the current mobility schemes such as the SHARE student mobility scheme, ASEAN International Mobility for Students, or AUN-ACTS mobility scheme. They highlighted that they had the practical experience to ensure a future programme supported and benefited individuals as well as the wider community.

Wider benefits of mobility

Another area of interest was promoting mobility opportunities and the long-term benefits as widely as possible, not just to individuals, but across society and ASEAN nations. By promoting the role of mobility in developing cross-border connections, growing larger markets and extending greater cultural understanding, it was hoped that the value of mobility and regional scholarship would be realised and supported.

Forum participants also felt it was important to map and quantify intra-ASEAN student mobility flows and scholarships. Students and alumni also offered to be champions of mobility and discussions started on the creation and role of an ASEAN/SHARE student alumni network and more widely to build a representative student voice that can be part of shaping the ASEAN Higher Education Area.

One aspect of the Erasmus impact survey captured the imagination of the forum participants. The finding that the Erasmus scheme has the greatest impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds had huge significance for such a diverse region.

The countries of ASEAN range in size and gross domestic product, from Singapore, a small city-state with world leading universities, to Indonesia, the fourth-most populous country in the world, and Myanmar, a nation just opening up to the global community.

The Erasmus study showed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds had the largest uplift in life chances following participation in overseas study, reinforcing that intra-regional mobility can also contribute to social mobility.

Looking to the future, the key to the success of an intra-ASEAN student mobility scheme is not to replicate Erasmus, but instead to take the learning from similar programmes and create a scheme that will support young people and ASEAN nations to develop socially and economically as well as ensuring a more cohesive ASEAN region, shared identity and deeper cultural understanding.

It was heartening to see the total commitment in pursuing mobility solutions for the ASEAN region, but it’s also important to ensure these opportunities continue to be available to young people across Europe and other regions. The benefits to individuals and wider society are clear – it is important to be advocates and champions of student mobility to ensure these are not lost or forgotten.

Caroline Chipperfield is senior adviser (higher education policy and strategy) at the British Council. EU SHARE is an EU-funded project consortium, led by the British Council in partnership with DAAD, Campus France, EP-Nuffic, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education and the European University Association. For more information please click here.